BUFFALO, N.Y. – Guercio & Sons grocery store confirmed Wednesday evening that the business “let go” an employee involved in an offensive interaction with a Black customer.
The employee was fired after she allegedly referred to the customer as a monkey and then drew a picture of a monkey on the food he ordered.
The man who ordered the sandwich is a John Washington, who also happens to be well known in the city as a civil rights activist with the organization PUSH Buffalo.
Washington posted the story and the photo of the drawing to Facebook, which is how Guercio & Sons learned of what happened.
"We don't accept any of this behavior,” said Lisa Guercio on behalf of her family.
The family-owned business is extremely apologetic for the offensive interaction, but Washington feels its evidence of a bigger problem.
Now, John concedes that the employee seems to have said the offensive remark jokingly, and that the now-former employee may not have even realized what she said was offensive.
John says that's an important piece of the point he wants to make because although this incident was small in context, he says it's evidence of a bigger issue, which is that Buffalo has a race problem.
Washington was unavailable for an interview Wednesday night but said by phone he wants more people to understand that subtle, subconscious racism is still very much alive.
Guercio & Sons, located on Grant Street in Buffalo's West Side, says it embraces diversity.
"Our business has been around for 56 years, since 1961, and we have a diverse bunch of customers, and we appreciate their business, and that was just out of line, and we apologize,” said Lisa Guercio. “I mean, we love everyone...we accept everyone.”
The owner says the former employee was not a member of the Guercio family and worked there for several months until this incident.
"John, we would like to apologize to you in person. From my heart to yours, I'm sorry, it was not right,” Lisa Guercio said.
Washington says he is open to meeting with the Guercio family to talk out what happened.
One of the Guercio sons, Vinny Guercio, said he does wish that Washington would have said something about this to a manager or the owner before he left store. The Guercio family only found out about this after Washington's Facebook post went viral.
Around 11:15 Wednesday night, a woman called Channel 2 identifying herself as the grocery store employee. She said that she and Washington know each other very well and that she would never call him a “monkey.” As for the drawing, she said it was a smiley face with ears and hopes to clear up what she feels is a false accusation.